Vous êtes américaine?! (You are American?!)

Today, I finally started officially working. Well, I guess you could call it that. Again, things tend to move quite slowly here in France. I finally went and observed two of the four classes that I will be teaching in at the middle school at which I was placed, however, that’s mostly what I did: observe. I won’t actually start teaching until next week probably but again key word: probably. However, in one of my classes, I had the opportunity to introduce myself and answer questions from the students that I will be teaching. They are really kind of adorable. I’m teaching the lowest level at the middle school, known as sixième in the French school system.

quick side note: So, just to teach everyone back home and everyone who is interested, here is the basic break down of how the French school system works. A child usually starts going to school around the age of three. They are thus in primary (or elementary school as we call it in the U.S.) school from age three until the age of 11. Then from age 11 to age 15, they are in middle school, which is slightly different from the U.S. school system. Sixth grade as we call it in the U.S. is known as sixième in France, which also means sixth. That’s the same, but then it gets a little tricky. Instead of going up like we do in the U.S., they go down in number. So, for example, what would be seventh grade in the U.S. is cinquième, which means fifth. Then 8th grade is quatrième, which is fourth…..You get the point, I’m sure. One other slight difference though, the last year of school, which is known as 12th grade/senior year of high school in the U.S., is known as terminale in France (terminal year). So, in all, French students spend four years in middle school and three years in high school.

Anyways, back to it. So, here I was standing up at the front of this classroom full of French 11 year olds, and firstly, I couldn’t help but to feel how adorable they were trying to ask me questions in English. Secondly, most had assumed that I’m English, because I speak English and because I’m living in Europe. So, when I told them that I’m American, I’m pretty sure their eyes doubled in size. They were so fascinated by my nationality, and then I realized that as I looked around the classroom, the students had notebooks, pencil bags, and pencils with the American flag all over them (They had stuff with the English flag on it, too. My eyes were just drawn to the American flag because it was really surprising to see). This really fascinated me because seeing the United States as ”cool” or ”hip” seems off to me, but then I also realized that we do the same thing with France. We put the Eiffel Tower on everything we possibly can, and it sells like crazy. Why do we do that? Why is it that other cultures/countries fascinate us so much, or rather, why is it so hip and trendy? I think it’s great that these kids are really interested in my country. However, I have to wonder, are they really interested in learning about my culture, my country, and myself, or is it just because the United States is so exotic to them? I feel the same way about people buying things with the Eiffel Tower on them. Are those people really interested in the country of France and its people or the romanticized picture of France that our culture has painted? I have to admit that sometimes, I refuse to buy things with the Eiffel Tower on them because even though the Eiffel Tower is a beautiful piece of architecture and a wonderful piece of French history, that’s not France to me. It doesn’t really fully symbolize what France and its people have come to mean to me and my life. It’s just one tiny, tiny corner of it. I can only hope that I can show these students a part of my culture, of my home that will help them to see the American flag in a whole new way.

I loved being able to tell them about myself though, about where I’m from (I said Indianapolis because giving a big city that I live near is much easier for them to comprehend than a small, country town like Pittsboro. Also, they struggled hardcore with pronouncing Indianapolis. I felt bad because it is kind of a hard word to pronounce to a non-native speaker.), about how old I am, what kind of music I like to listen to, what food I like to eat, etc. It felt strange being seen as this exotic, cool being to these French middle schoolers, but it was kind of fun to tell people about my country and myself and have it be seen as something new and different. It felt refreshing. I can only hope that I get to know my students as well. They do seem to be sweet little things.

When I was actually observing, some things definitely caught my attention. French classrooms apparently don’t tend to have decorations such as posters, calendars, etc. on the walls. The walls are almost completely blank and white. This is grossly in contrast to American classrooms, which are completely decked out with posters, information, colors, etc. every where. I wonder why that is. Is it to help the students focus on the lessons? Do the schools not want their students distracted so that they can put all of their attention into lesson learning? Also, the students learn British English, which comes as no surprise since that’s the closest English-speaking country to France, but I’m wondering what it’s going to be like teaching them because some of the terminology and phraseology in American English is definitely different than British English. I’m not sure that I’m going to remember to use the British English, which why would I since I’m not British, but still, I guess I just want to be conscientious of not confusing them, especially because they are young and because they are only learning basic English right now. The pronunciation of some words are definitely different for sure. I’m actually legitimately afraid of confusing them because my accent is completely different and my pronunciation and vocabulary are both very different as well. I suppose I’ll just have to see how the kids respond to me, accent and all.

Given this slight fear though, I’m really excited to finally be starting in the schools, even if it is just observing for now. I’m excited to teach these kids about my culture and language and to learn about their culture and language. It’s kind of overwhelming, in a very, very pleasant way. As I was walking back to my apartment after I class, I couldn’t help but to have an out of body experience. Here I was, walking in France, coming home from prepping to be an English teacher, teaching French students. This is truly a dream come true, a dream that I am achieving much more smoothly and with more confidence than I had ever initially anticipated (In fact, I feared absolute failure, to be honest). Not many get a chance to achieve such a dream, so it is thus that I am extremely grateful for how truly blessed I am. I’m so thankful that I have acquired the confidence, the means, and the support to pursue this dream full steam ahead.

Loving this life despite the constant roller coaster of emotions, and loving telling my story. Thank you all for listening (or rather reading) in.

Grands bisous et à plus mes amis….

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